Did you know that about 75% of people worldwide cannot digest lactose? The daily life of an intolerant person is often difficult. Stomach pains, diarrhea, bloating… the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be very painful.
How to tell if you are lactose intolerant?
Lactose intolerance is the difficulty in digesting the sugar contained in milk and dairy products. It is caused by lactase deficiency which is not transformed by lactase, ends up in the intestine where it ferments, and this leads to unpleasant digestive symptoms. If the lactose passes through the small intestine without being absorbed a little – if not completely – then it reaches the large intestine, where it will ferment due to the specific intestinal flora. The result? Swelling, pain, acid diarrhea, or vomiting in the most severe cases. The appearance of this kind of symptom after drinking milk generally leads to the suspicion of intolerance. However, this case can be confused with an allergy to milk proteins. That’s why we suggest you make some specific tests that may or may not confirm a possible intolerance.
How is the diagnosis made?
As intolerance can be a secondary consequence of chronic or insignificant digestive diseases, in case of doubt, the doctor can check for other possible conditions. The diagnosis of intolerance can be confirmed in specialized centers, hospitals, or clinics with a breath test. This involves measuring the concentration of hydrogen, a sign of undigested lactose fermentation, in the air exhaled before and after this specific ingredient’s consumption. Alternatively, you can do a simple blood test that measures the level of glucose in the blood after consuming lactose: because if the lactose has been properly absorbed, it is converted into glucose.
Foods to avoid
The products with the highest lactose content are milk and its derivatives:
- Cow’s and goat’s milk
- Milk powder
- Cottage cheese, fresh and cream
- Dairy drinks
- Milk-based desserts: pancakes, cakes, milk bread, pastries, etc. Yoghurt is generally better digested thanks to its lactic fermentation.
What to do in case of lactose intolerance:
- Consume milk or its derivatives containing lactose in small quantities throughout the day.
- Choose to consume milk or lactose-containing foods with other foods, not on an empty stomach.
- Eat cheese! Hard cheeses, such as cheddar or parmesan, are naturally lower in this ingredient, which makes them easier to digest.
- Choose yogurt and yogurt drinks like kefir. They contain bacteria that help break down lactose.
- Limit your intake of foods that cause you discomfort. Every body is different. You may not have an issue eating macaroni and cheese, for example, but someone else with an intolerance may experience serious side effects. Everyone has a different level of lactose tolerance. Try different amounts and types of lactose-containing foods to find out what you can and can’t tolerate.
What is the difference between intolerance and allergy?
Allergy is caused by a protein rather than a carbohydrate. It is an abnormal reaction of the immune system, with the production of antibodies (IgE) and the release of histamine and other substances responsible for the allergic reaction (itching, swelling, etc.). An allergy can lead to serious consequences (asthma, oedema, anaphylactic shock), whereas lactose intolerance, although it causes unpleasant symptoms, is not as serious most of the times. An allergy requires the complete exclusion of foods containing the allergen (the problem protein), whereas in the case of lactose intolerance, small amounts are often tolerated. Each individual must determine their own tolerance level and keep it in mind.
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